This article has been updated and fact checked and is still accurate as of 5/12/22.
Over the past 5 years, I became a full-time elopement photographer. I make more money photographing elopements now than I ever made photographing traditional weddings, and I actually shoot fewer celebrations each year too. How did I find couples willing to invest in bigger elopement photography packages? How did I niche down from a wedding photography company to an elopement-only brand? How did I successfully communicate the value of a true-to-you elopement experience?
Whether you’re starting a photography business, niching down to focus on elopements, or simply looking to evaluate the success of your current practices, understanding how to price elopement photography is essential to making a sustainable profit as an elopement photographer. There are so many variables to how individuals operate their business, which affect what price for their photography will work best for them. This article won’t tell you what number is a good minimum or maximum to charge for elopement photography. Instead, you’ll get insight into what I’ve learned over the years as an elopement photographer: that value perception is key to understanding pricing structures.
Your individual cost of doing business, cost of living, desire to travel (or not to travel), and how many weddings or elopements you’d like to take on each year are all components of how you’ll end up deciding what to charge for your services. But I’ll be blunt: I don’t think your elopement photography packages should be any cheaper than your wedding photography packages.
If you’re thinking, “There’s no way someone will pay me as much to photograph an elopement as they would a wedding,” I’m living proof that you’re wrong. I’ve built an entire business modeled on the concept that intentional elopements are extremely valuable. To raise my elopement package prices, I first had to fight the common myths about elopements and eloping couples. I have data-backed proof that the myths about elopement photography are simply not true.
Below, I refute the biggest myths about elopement photography, talk through the process of increasing the perceived value of elopement photography, and give advice based on my experience to help you restructure your pricing strategy and increase the value that you offer eloping couples. These are the same steps and the same understandings that have led me to build an elopement photography business so successful that I’ve been able to expand my team in the past few years and still have booked out wedding seasons.
7 MYTHS ABOUT ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY THAT CAUSE PHOTOGRAPHERS TO UNDERVALUE THEIR WORK
Myth #1: Elopements should be cheaper than weddings.
This is inherently false because there is no set price anyone “should” pay for their marriage celebration! A wedding that costs hundreds is just as legitimate as an elopement that costs thousands. When strictly looking at photography, it is possible for couples to spend technically more for their photographer but less overall. Elopement photographers often do more work for the couples who hire them (location scouting, researching permits and Leave No Trace ethics for that specific area, creating timelines, etc.), so it wouldn’t be unusual for a photographer to be a higher percentage of an eloping couple’s budget.
Myth #2: Eloping couples won’t pay as much for photography.
This is false based on experience. I make more money as an elopement photographer than I ever did as a wedding photographer. I often use the example of the medical field to explain how niching down is more profitable. Surgeons who specialize in a specific procedure make much more than general physicians, and patients don’t question that because niching down in your field is a sign of expertise, which is worth paying for.
Myth #3: Couples who elope don’t value the celebration as much as couples who plan weddings.
In my experience, the opposite of this is true! Couples who choose to elope value the experience of their wedding celebration so much that they have been willing to step outside the traditional norm and create a day that feels more authentic to them.
Myth #4: The main reason couples choose to elope is to save money.
I’ve asked hundreds of couples what their main reason for eloping is, and almost none of them said it was a financial decision. Instead, they cite reasons like “wanting more privacy” or “disliking being the center of attention” or “wanting to travel somewhere beautiful.”
Myth #5: You can’t charge as much for elopements because those couples don’t have as high a budget for photography.
When you cut out the costs of a huge venue, catering for hundreds of people, and the other costs of a traditional wedding that don’t roll over to most elopements, it’s true that many couples save money. But I don’t know any elopement photographers who charge more for their services than the cost of your average venue and catering. Simply put, eloping couples can pay more for a photographer and still pay less overall, which invalidates this myth.
Myth #6: Elopements are all last-minute, which means couples have less time to save for the experience.
It is true that we get some inquiries for last-minute elopements, but most of our couples reach out 9 to 12 months before their big day. This timeline is still reasonably similar to bigger wedding timelines.
Myth #7: Elopements don’t last as many hours as a wedding.
This is totally dependent on couples and the standard they expect from the industry—in other words, elopements can last as long as the elopement packages offered. If you want to photograph all-day elopements, don’t offer one- or two-hour packages.
WHAT PHOTOGRAPHERS BELIEVE ABOUT ELOPEMENTS DIRECTLY AFFECTS HOW THEY PRICE ELOPEMENTS
1) Do you believe an elopement is more than just a portrait shoot?
2) Do you believe an elopement day is just as valuable as a wedding day to the couple getting married?
3) Do you believe the value that you offer couples who elope is as valuable as what you offer couples planning bigger weddings?
If you answered “yes” to those three questions, you’re ready to begin communicating that value to potential clients through your website, branding and marketing. Your beliefs and values about elopements will help you communicate the value of a truly unique, authentic wedding celebration to potential clients—and your conviction will help connect you with clients who feel the same way.
1) Does your website and social media communicate that elopements are more than just portrait sessions?
2) Does your website and social media communicate that an elopement is just as valuable as a wedding to the couple getting married?
3) Does your website and social media communicate that you can offer couples an elopement experience of equal or greater value than you can offer a wedding experience?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’ve built a consistent brand that is truly ahead of the industry in communicating the value of elopements. Consistency, strong SEO and building your portfolio will now take your brand to the next level by getting your work in front of the couples who will appreciate it most.
The fact is that most photographers still don’t price elopements as high as they price weddings. By pricing elopements as high as weddings, you’re helping change the perception that eloping is something worth investing in.
HOW TO DETERMINE THE VALUE OF YOUR ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY
The value of the photographs you take is a mixture between the literal financial investment put into crafting the images and the emotional importance your service provides to the clients who pay for it. I personally believe that elopement photography is priceless. It’s often the only documentation of a couple’s celebration—there aren’t hundreds of guests with phone cameras catching moments. As an elopement photographer, I’m often the only witness present, and the gallery will be the only physical memory of this day.
As much as we all try to remember the best moments in our lives, those memories do fade with time. I can personally attest that I look back on my own elopement gallery often, and those images bring back a flood of my favorite memories that I couldn’t have held so tightly to without the images. Part of what makes these photos so special is that they tell the story of our whole day—particularly the sweet in-between moments that I honestly might never have remembered. If you value elopement photography as more than just portraits, the worth of this kind of documentation becomes clear.
WHY ELOPEMENTS ARE OFTEN MORE WORK THAN WEDDINGS
Fact: I do more work now for each eloping couples than I ever did for a couple at a traditional wedding.
At most traditional weddings, I’d follow three pretty simple steps:
1) Get hired.
2) Show up and shoot.
3) Edit and deliver the images.
The day of the wedding was often coordinated by a planner and the hours certainly involved a ton of work, but, outside the wedding itself, basically all I was expected to do was edit. This is standard for wedding photographers—and for those who haven’t planned and photographed elopements, this sounds like a typical day.
The elopement process is much more involved from the very beginning:
1) Initial consultation.
2) Begin planning date and location.
3) Scout locations and research Leave No Trace considerations.
4) Build timeline.
5) Regular check-ins.
6) Have a solid backup plan.
7) Document a highly personalized elopement experience.
8) Edit and deliver the images.
From the very first moment I receive an inquiry from a couple, I’m more involved in the process of crafting their day. Sure, some come to me with a plan of where and when already in place, but many others work with each of us at Adventure Instead to have an intimate investment in the where and how of their celebration.
Why would I price elopements less than weddings if I do more work? Pricing weddings as more means that the value I’m communicating is based on stress level or head count, which makes no sense to me. Having a significantly less stressful elopement day is more valuable in every way!
THE MARKETING PSYCHOLOGY OF PRESTIGE PRICING VS. CHARM PRICING
The price tag on your photography services leaves a first impression of perceived value. Choosing the right number can go far in communicating the value of your services before you ever get to speak to a couple.
First, acknowledge what elopement photography is: a luxury service. It is not a necessity. As a photographer you are not catering to someone’s basic needs. You’re providing a service that truly no one needs, but many want. Communicating value through prestige pricing—a financial marker of luxury—you’re essentially creating an emotional response within a customer that they are getting more.
To cater to the psychology of luxury, use round numbers. Charm pricing works really well to communicate the value of discount products, like $2.99, but prestige pricing, like $8,000, communicates a luxury service. If you were to price the same thing for $7,999, it’s going to communicate value like a discount product because of the way marketing psychology has trained consumers over the decades.
If you want to increase both the value and price of your photography services, you must:
1) Communicate the value of elopements.
2) Provide elopement resources to inquiring couples.
3) Regularly evaluate your process to be more efficient and provide more value.
WHY WE INCLUDE TRAVEL COSTS IN ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY PACKAGES
Bundling your photography packages can also be a way of increasing value, and a side effect is simplifying things for everyone involved. We bundle everything at Adventure Instead. There is a single price tag for our couples that includes planning, photography, editing and travel.
This appeals in the same way that vacation bundles do. We all know paying for a “vacation package” is not the cheapest way to travel, but it simplifies the experience for clients who want to be focused more on where they’re going. There’s also a level of trust built when clients agree to a package bundle. They expect you to handle the multiple steps of the process and take some of the pressure off of them to book your travel or housing.
HOW TO GET COUPLES TO INVEST IN BIGGER ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY PACKAGES
If your goal is to work with clients looking for longer photography packages, you first need to focus on connecting with clients who truly want your service. You’re never going to convince someone who knows they don’t want to elope that an elopement is right for them. However, not everyone who would prefer an elopement wedding experience already knows they would enjoy that kind of celebration!
For the people who truly want a luxurious elopement experience, or those who will want this experience once they’ve been introduced to the idea, an important first step is to remember you are the expert on elopements. It’s unlikely they are as familiar with the modern adventure elopement scene as you are, so don’t be afraid to show them exactly what their day has the potential to be!
The word used for convincing a couple to invest in a more expensive product is “upselling,” but I’m really not a fan of that term in this context because it insinuates that you’re selling a couple more of something than they originally wanted, which isn’t the goal at all. Communicating value helps couples invest in exactly what they want. Instead of a one- or two-hour elopement experience that falls short, they’re able to experience something truly memorable—something they want to invest in!
Getting couples to invest in bigger photography packages isn’t about making them stretch a budget; it’s about connecting with the right couples and educating them about their options.
If you get an inquiry for a one- or two-hour elopement, don’t be discouraged. Even if you’ve thoroughly explained the value of investing in elopements on your website, each inquiry is an opportunity to help couples really learn what their investment could look like. An elopement guide, educational blogs and other resources can open a couple’s eyes to what an elopement can potentially look like.
The price you put on your elopement photography packages goes a long way to communicate the value of your services before you ever get to explain your work to a couple. If they see that you price weddings and elopements the same, they’ll immediately come to the conclusion that you value both events.
If you want to change the structure of your elopement pricing, the first step will be to communicate the increased value couples receive when working with you.
I truly believe elopements are the future of the wedding industry for many couples, and they will only continue to increase in popularity. Photographers have more control over the perception of elopements than we realize. Couples will value these photography packages more once we do.
Maddie Mae is an adventure elopement photographer through her business, Adventure Instead, based in Colorado. She was named one of Rangefinder’s 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography in 2018. Join a community of adventurous wedding and elopement photographers and take your business to the next level with tons of free trainings, collaboration and genuine connections by Adventure Instead.